From the time I was a young woman, I’ve noticed that groups–large and small–seem to have unique personalities.  I first observed it when I was a member of the youth choir in my church.  Most of the people in the choir were also in my Bible study class.  In the choir, there were several younger teens and a couple of older teens.  Throwing in these other folks meant that the people in my Sunday school class acted and reacted differently than  when the ten of us were together on Sunday morning.  

Later, on Sunday evening, most of us attended a church-sponsored training class.  Even though we were the same group of people, our leader was different.  Additionally, most Sunday evenings, at least three or four people did not attend.  Again, the dynamics of this more intimate, training class was different from choir and from the Bible study.  I wondered at the change.

 A couple of years ago, my observations were confirmed to me during one of the classes I took while getting my masters degree.  Answers.com defines group personality as :

Characteristic of a group which is analogous to that of the personality of an individual, in that the group behaves as a unit in certain circumstances; it possesses energy (see synergy), has drives and emotional states, and it engages in collective deliberations in much the same way as individuals. Group personality is relatively independent of those apparently possessed by the group members.

Mayers Briggs even has a test which will determine the type of personality any group may possess.   

I’m sure you have found that not only does your whole ministry have a personality but the people (elders or volunteers) who are responsible for this ministry also pulse with unique characteristics.  The concern occurs when the personality of your ministry group turns negative or critical. 

Years ago, John, one of the volunteers with whom I was working turned 70 years old.  I did not realize that he was sensitive about his age.  Therefore, I made a silly teasing remark about his birthday.  Without realizing it, I offended him.  We were a small group of six volunteers and we had become extremely close.  We often went out to lunch.  We enjoyed each others’ company. 

One day, I realized that group dynamics had drastically changed.  We were no longer comfortable with each other.  Slowly, the wonderful friendship and joy of sharing in ministry evaporated.  I began to pray.  John called me one afternoon.  “Can we talk?” he asked.

We met and John shared with me that I had offended him.  I apologized and tried to explain that my teasing was not meant to be offensive.  He forgave me and things went back to normal again.  Because of his maturity in the Lord, we were able to avoid more uncomfortable tension.  And most importantly, the entire ministry did not suffer.

There are no easy answers to resetting the personality of a ministry team.  However, prayer is the start.  Confrontation may be needed.  I’ve learned that most people aren’t as mature as John.  Once they have been wounded or offended by a member of the group, they may never return to the comfortable place of trust, fellowship and joy they once shared within the group.  This is hard to swallow; but it is also reality.

Continuing to bathe each meeting and encounter in prayer seems to be the only way to make things right.  Criticism to counter criticism will never work.  Negative reactions to block negative attitudes will spell disaster for you and your group. 

Should the offended party decide to leave your ministry, you must release her and bless her as she goes.  This will be hard but it may the best and perhaps the only way to restore your group into a cohesive working unit.  Perhaps God has allowed the offense to help the person to move into another place of more valuable ministry.  When Joyce came to Special Gathering, we welcomed her with open arms.  She told me later that she had tried to work with another ministry in the county for a couple of years.  “I knew God had called me to minister within the mentally challenged community.  However, I could never do anything that suited the leadership in the other ministry.  Finally, I left only to visit you for one time.  Immediately, I knew I had come home and I was needed.”

For MaryAnne, it was the opposite.  She attended Special Gathering but she couldn’t seem to find her nitch.  The moment she walked into the ministry across town, she felt needed and wanted. 

It was after Judas left the upper room that Jesus was free to turn to his other disciples and pour out his heart to them regarding his death and resurrection.  Knowing and observing the personality of your ministry team is one of the keys to successful ministry.  Some advice our mothers’ gave us never grows old, “Stop, look and listen.”

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